15 things to do in Ferrara (Italy)

Ferrara is a fantastic tourist destination located in the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy. Connected to Bologna, Venice and Ravenna and just 50 km from the coast, Ferrara is a great base for exploring this part of Italy. As the capital of the province of Ferrara, the city has a population of 133,000 and has a strong industrial sector that contributes significantly to the region’s economy.

Ferrara has played an important role in the country’s history, and it is closely linked to the Casa d’Este, which had a major influence in Italy after 1400. Records of the settlement of Ferrara date back to 753 AD, and in more recent history the city became part of the unified Kingdom of Italy.

As a tourist destination, Ferrara benefits from strong rail links with other major cities in the Emilia-Romagna region and has many wonderful sights. Due to its importance and its connection to the Este family, Ferrara is home to countless beautiful historic buildings, such as the Palazzo Diamanti, and many great public spaces, such as the Massari Park. In addition, the Po River opens up many possibilities and allows to explore a wider area.

Let’s take a look at the best things to do in Ferrara:

1. Estans Castle

Estance Castle

Also known as St Michael’s Castle, this beautiful building has stood since the Middle Ages and is perfect.

In the heart of the historic old town, Castle Estense is surrounded by a moat and sits on its own island.

The architecture of this complex is outstanding, with four guard towers sitting perfectly in the water.

Built in the 14th century, the castle has been a symbol of Ferrara’s power for centuries.

Today you can admire the beautiful exterior and walk around the moat, but you can also go inside the castle.

Within the impressive walls of the castle you can find a series of ornately decorated rooms, such as the Dawn Chamber, the Ducal Chapel and the Dungeon.

2. St. George’s Cathedral

Basilica of St. George, Ferrara

Often referred to as the Cathedral of Ferrara, this stunning building is known for its beautiful architecture and interior design.

You can find this amazing building in the heart of the UNESCO-designated historic center of Ferrara, in a square with several interesting buildings.

The facade of the cathedral combines Romanesque and Renaissance styles and features a series of ornate arches and decorations.

The interior of the church, richly decorated, is comparable to some of the better-known religious buildings in Italy.

The ceilings, walls and domes are covered with ornate artwork, religious reliefs and frescoes by various Renaissance artists.

3. Museo della Cattedrale

Deira Castle Museum

Although connected to St. George’s Cathedral, the Cathedral Museum is a fantastic attraction in itself and definitely worth a visit.

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This insightful museum offers a fascinating look into the history of Ferrara Cathedral and other religious buildings, as well as the city’s prosperity during the Renaissance.

Here you’ll find a fine collection of religious art, artifacts and relics, including pipe organs, service brochures and altar crosses.

The centerpiece of the museum is an ornate courtyard with a series of ornate arches and an ancient well.

4. National Archaeological Museum

National Archaeological Museum

Located within the confines of an old palace, the National Archaeological Museum is a fantastic building with a beautifully landscaped garden behind it.

You can find this interesting place on Via XX Settembre, south of the historic city center.

The museum’s first notable feature is its stunning collection of frescoes and architecture within the building – it retains a great deal of its original fixtures and designs and is a fantastic structure in itself.

In addition to this, the museum contains a large number of archaeological finds, mainly from the nearby ancient site of Spina.

Items include vases, pottery, gold and silver jewelry, and even two old sailing ships.

5. Palazzo Diamanti Art Gallery

Palazzo Dei Diamanti Gallery

You won’t see an architectural façade like this – hundreds of faceted marble blocks line the facade of Palazzo Diamanti, creating a truly impressive venue.

You can find this extraordinary building next to the Parco Massari, it is advisable to combine the visit of these two places.

Inside the building, there is a great art gallery with works between the 13th and 17th centuries, mainly from famous artists in the area.

6. The Walls of Ferrara

Walls of Ferrara - Outpost

Ferrara was once surrounded by impressive masonry walls that encircled the city – like many Renaissance defensive walls, the structure had a star-shaped structure with several pointed intersections.

Today, much of the ancient city wall still stands, and this defensive network is considered one of the best-preserved in Europe.

Significant parts of the city walls include the southern part of the city along Via Quartieri, and the western part of the city along Via Gramicia.

A well-maintained walkway surrounds the walls almost all the way, and you can walk 8-10 km if you wish.

7. Museo del Risorgimento e della Resistenza

Italian Renaissance Museum

Throughout World War II (and even throughout history), resistance movements were created to oppose the regime and its government.

During World War II, Italy formed many resistance groups to oppose Mussolini’s fascist regime.

The Renaissance and Resistance Museum pays tribute to the local resistance groups in Ferrara and their exploits and the actions of the regime during this difficult time.

Inside the museum, you can find a range of exhibits and displays detailing the history of the Resistance, as well as many artifacts and discoveries from this era.

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This is a fascinating place for anyone interested in WWII and Italy in the 1940s.

8. Parco Massari

Parco Massari

Ferrara has a wonderful historic city center, but also many beautiful parks and natural attractions to explore.

Parco Masari is located in the north of town, near Chiesa di San Cristoforo alla Certosa.

This is where locals often come to relax or bring their kids on sunny days, but it’s also a great spot for tourists.

The grounds of this park have many walkways shaded by large and old trees, as well as a fountain and a children’s playground.

In addition, Palazzo Massari is located at the base of the park, while the Church of San Cristoforo is within walking distance.

9. Ferrara Botanical Gardens

Ferrara Botanical Garden

Many universities operate and maintain a botanical garden for research and study as well as tourism, and the Ferrara Botanical Garden is one such place.

Opposite the Diamanti Palace and Massari Park, the gardens are meticulously maintained by University staff and are a great place to explore.

The gardens contain more than 1,300 greenhouse species, as well as 700 outdoor plants, trees and flora.

Divided into different sections, you can explore areas dedicated to exotic plants, medicinal plants, and themed areas such as Japanese gardens and rock gardens.

10. Take a day trip to Bologna

bologna

If you travel 30 minutes south of Ferrara, you will eventually find the impressive city of Bologna.

Regular trains run between the two cities, and the A13 route provides fast and reliable transport between these two major cities in the Emilia-Romagna region.

Bologna has a long and famous history, known for its impressive medieval towers and long vaulted arcades.

Famous sights in this charming city include the Due Torri (two iconic towers that have stood for centuries), Piazza Santo Stefano and the fascinating Anatomical Theatre.

If you’ve fully explored Ferrara, why not take a trip to Bologna?

11. Chiesa di San Cristoforo alla Certosa

Chiesa Di San Cristoforo Alla Certosa

As part of the huge cemetery north of Ferrara, Chiesa di San Cristoforo al Cetosa and its grounds are an impressive area to visit.

In front of the church is a huge semicircular colonnade with several manicured lawns lined with trees.

After crossing the lawn, you will see that the front façade of the church is still unfinished – its modest stone walls are in desperate need of decoration.

While the exterior is modest and unfinished, the interior is luxurious and beautifully decorated, with a series of detailed reliefs and murals by local Ferrare artists such as Karachi and Filippi.

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Besides the church, the grounds of the cemetery are also interesting.

12. Cruise on the Po River

canal ferrara

The choppy Po is the longest river in Italy and eventually joins the Adriatic Sea south of Venice.

A man-made canal connects Ferrara to the River Po, and you can reach the river by boat through the inner passage.

There is a dock on the southern edge of Ferrara from which cruise ships depart – from here you will travel to the canal and under the railway bridge, before turning into the main waters which lasts about 5 km before entering the Treasure River.

A boat trip is a great way to see the city from a different perspective, relax, enjoy a drink and admire the wonderful countryside surrounding Ferrara.

13. Enjoy a refined and authentic meal at L’antico Giardino restaurant

L'antico Giardino Restaurant

If you’re looking for a secluded place to dine, L’antico Giardino is the place to be.

Located in the small village of Laval, 10 minutes west of Ferrara, this delightful hotel offers an excellent dining experience at reasonable prices.

The menu includes a variety of meat dishes such as venison with red cranberry jam or rabbit fillets with mushroom cream, as well as a variety of delicious appetizers and first courses such as Kamala and Pumpkin Flan.

Here, you can enjoy fine dining in the quaint and elegant setting of the ancient garden.

14. Enjoy pastries and coffee at Pasticceria Naturale Café

Pasticceria Naturale Cafe

Close to the Botanical Gardens and Parco Massari, Pasticceria Naturale is the ideal place to enjoy coffee and a delicious cake or pastry.

This charming café offers a variety of freshly made pastries and desserts, as well as mouthwatering coffees and juices.

Friendly and helpful staff will cater to your every need and make your experience unforgettable.

It’s a great place to get away from the crowds and spend 20 minutes relaxing, having a drink and something to eat.

15. Monastero di S. Antonio in Polesine

Monastero Di S. Antonio in Polesine

The charming streets around the San Antonio Convent transport you to different places and times, making you feel out of the world.

Created in the 17th century with the help of the powerful Este family, the monastery has stood for hundreds of years and is still maintained by a dedicated group of nuns.

Within the complex you will find a series of beautifully decorated chapels, each with richly coloured and detailed frescoes.

At certain times, the nuns sing during the service, and if you can see this beautiful feat, count yourself lucky.

Where to stay: The best hotels in Ferrara, Italy
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